October 15, 2007
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 10/15/07
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
I think many people live in a fantasy world, believing that if we would simply get our troops out of places they feel they don’t belong, all would be right. After the past week at work I’m here to tell you it will not. Many of my colleagues and I believe we will be right where we are for another five years, at least. And even if we’re not, the effects are going to be felt for many, many years.
Why do I say this? Why do I believe this? I am now starting to see patients returning to inpatient status, requiring additional surgeries and interventions, years after their original injuries. One of the other nurses said to me yesterday, “Clara, we’re seeing these guys again. It’s been years since his initial injury and now he’s back”
They are back. The ones who can come back.
Some will be medically retired and will be farmed out to the VA system -- an already overwhelmed VA system, largely ill-equipped to deal with the issues and needs of the OIF/OEF Soldier, Marine, Airman and Sailor.
Some will seemingly manage “just fine” until they self-destruct. Too many will allow alcohol and pharmaceuticals to take the place of the in-depth mental health assistance almost all cry out for but may never get.
Some will take their own lives as the horrific pain of dealing with just “one more day” –- one more day of woulda/coulda/shoulda -- becomes too overwhelming.
Some will never come back. Not the way they left anyway.
Some will find their own way, alone or with help from friends and family, and will progress on -- possibly retaining their military career, or perhaps replacing it with opportunities now afforded.
Why do I write this? Because it is reality. This is the world I live in and see every single day. As one patient physically heals and is discharged from the hospital, another is there to take their place. Over and over I experience this. Whether it is a newly injured soldier fresh from the battlefield or the Marine blown up three years ago, I see it. And these are only the ones I do lay eyes upon. What about the thousands and thousands who come home physically in one piece? The others who return from their 4th, 5th, 6th tours?
Whether we are right or wrong to be where we are is not the question. The question is and should remain, “How do we help those who believe enough in their country, its citizens and its leaders, to do their job?”
Many people write me and ask, "What can we do?" They want to be proactive instead of sitting passively along the sidelines criticizing. Instead of saying, “We need to get the hell out of there,” try donating your unused frequent flyer miles to the Fisher House Foundation or Soldiers Angels, so they can in turn use them to bring families and friends to a soldier’s bedside.
Try learning about combat stress and post traumatic stress disorder so that when your cousin returns from Afghanistan you’ll understand why he hits the ground when a firecracker goes off or a car backfires. You can assure the OIF/OEF vet that they are not going crazy, but are having normal reactions to having experienced very abnormal events and situations.
Urge Congress to put pressure on the military to provide appropriate care and staffing for our wounded warriors. You may not know about it, but there is a nursing shortage and it extends into the military healthcare. We need more staff. Many of our active duty nursing staff are deployed, so we backfill with reservists and civilians, but there is still not enough. We need mental health professionals these guys and gals can relate to, people who actually have a clue as to what it’s like to be in combat. I hate to say this, but I’ve met some of these mental health folks and even I wouldn’t talk to them, and I don’t have a quarter of the issues these injured do.
Give your extra pennies to organizations that help sponsor day trips and outings for the wounded. Simply getting them out of the drudgery of rehab and giving them something to look forward to can bring about a drastic change and improvement in their attitude and outlook.
Earlier this week I saw a t-shirt worn by the mother of one of my injured Marines and it said, “If you don’t want to support our troops feel free to stand in front of them." Kind of speaks for itself.